Red berries are especially colorful this time of year and these three; Highbush Cranberry, Rose Hips and Sumac Berries are more than a glowing red face. Each of these are important as good winter foods, good winter medicines and can be part of your landscape.
High Bush Cranberry
High Bush Cranberry (Viburnum opulus) is a native to much of the upper Midwest stretching throughout Canada down into the Northeast and into some parts of Virginia. It prefers mostly northern climates. It is not really a true cranberry but is a member of the Honeysuckle family. Lowbush cranberry (Vaccinium) is a member of the Heath family of plants which we traditionally see on the Thanksgiving table. Highbush Cranberry likes to grow in wet, marshy areas but also makes a wonderful landscape ornamental. Fall foliage is a deep crimson and the berries can last from October well into February making it very showy. Once the plant is established in a yard, it is quite drought resistant. The berries have a tart flavor and are high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K. Beverly Gray in The Boreal Herbal, discusses the use of the inner bark for treating strep infections of throat or skin while the outer bark can be used as a gargle for treatment of gingivitis or loose teeth. Matthew Wood in his book, The Earthwise Herbal Vol 2., states that the berries of the Viburnum opulus are well suited to kidneys and are helpful with low back pain, stiffness and soreness. He also suggests the bark is well suited for younger women with menstrual cramps.
Rose Hips from (Rosa rugosa). This is an older variety of scrub rose that not only has very fragrant flowers, it has lovely large rose hips. This particular variety is easy to grow and loves lots of sun. It is drought resistant when established and can spread about 4-8 feet in width. It is a low maintenance plant making it great for the gardener or the herbalist. If you are lucky, you can find it growing wild. Rose hips, like the high bush cranberry are also high in Vitamin C but are sweeter in flavor. They are loaded with flavonoids which can help reduce inflammation, support a strong immune system and are well suited to support the cardiac system. Because they are also mucilaginous and loaded with pectin, they make a fantastic jelly or jam. This is a favorite recipe for rose hip jam.
Sumac Berries of the Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) are often given a bad rap as being poisonous. This variety as well as smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) are NOT poisonous. Toxicodendron vernix is the poisonous variety and grows mostly in swamps. Staghorn Sumac grows in the higher ground of prairies and likes wide open sunny areas with drier soils. It makes a great soil protector along sunny hillsides. Sumac berries are best collected in the fall of the year when conditions are dry for a good 3-5 days if possible so as to preserve the acidic properties of the outer furry bits of the berry. The berries are sour in flavor and high in tannins making them quite astringent. As a food, they like highbush cranberry and rose hips, they are high in vitamin C and were used as a food to treat scurvy. Native people most often used the Rhus glabra species of Sumac as a lemonade like drink boiling the berries in water and sweetening with a touch of honey or maple syrup. I,however, have found Rhus typhina a equally flavorful option. The berries can be powdered and used as a seasoning for meats or salads. As a medicine, Sumac berries can be used to stop all manner of fluid loss whether urine leakage, excessive menstruation, diarrhea or excessive mucus drainage from a cold.
These red berries are not only beautiful to behold, they make great additions to your kitchen and your medicine cabinet.